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Refusing, Delaying, And Alternating The Vaccine Schedule: Helpful Or Harmful? Part 1

For parents today who are concerned about the seemingly crowded recommended immunization schedule, it may seem logical to deviate from it and create a unique immunization experience for their child. For parents who selectively immunize, delaying or spacing out vaccines is appealing because it alleviates their concerns while ensuring their child is at least partially if not eventually fully immunized. For parents who refuse all immunizations, the feared risks of vaccines outweigh any and all benefits. But is it really that simple? As a public health professional, immunization expert, and most importantly, mother of an up-to-date fully immunized 16-month old, I would say “no, it’s not that simple.” Over the next three blogs, I’ll take a closer look at the practice of refusing, delaying, and alternating the vaccine schedule — is it helpful or harmful? Parents utilize various types of alternative schedules and some parents delay all vaccines until a certain age or only selectively immunize their children; however, the “alternative” and “selective” vaccination schedule put forth by Dr. Bob Sears schedules are popular favorites. A well-known pediatrician and author, Dr. Sears wrote a book about vaccines in which he plays on parents fears, gives credence to common vaccine concerns and myths, and falsely reassures parents that refusing, delaying, or alternating the vaccine schedule is safe and reasonable. For starters, Dr. Sears minimizes the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases when in fact, the risk is real and frightening. Regarding hepatitis B, he states that “in infants it is extremely rare. It occurs mainly in adults. Occasionally a baby may catch it from an infected mom at the time of birth...” Dr. Sears couldn’t be more wrong. In truth, approximately one-third of the estimated one million Americans living with chronic hepatitis B acquired the infection from their mothers at birth or as young children. Not only does Dr. Sears underestimate the risk of vaccine-preventable disease, he places a higher emphasis on the risk of vaccines, stating that he has “put together a vaccine schedule… that minimizes the theoretical risks of vaccines.” Theoretical? As in hypothetical? Let’s look again at what is not theoretical — the risk of vaccine-preventable disease. For example, Dr. Sears states that “measles is now extremely rare and in most cases harmless.” Really? So far this year, 202 cases of measles have been reported in the U.S. 47 cases required hospitalization. 86% of the infected persons were unvaccinated. In short, we are experiencing the worst outbreak of measles since 1996. And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a resurgence of measles. In 2008, there was also a measles outbreak in San Diego where an intentionally unvaccinated child contracted measles while traveling overseas and subsequently exposed other unvaccinated children in his doctor’s waiting room. One of these children was too young to be immunized and ended up being hospitalized. As it turned out, these were Dr. Sears’ patients. But it doesn’t end there. In 2010, California saw the worst pertussis epidemic since 1958 with more than 9,000 cases and 10 infant deaths. Moreover, children with non-medical exemptions from school immunizations were found to be 35 times more likely to contract measles than non-exempt children. They were also almost 6 times more likely to have had pertussis. Simply put, refusing, delaying, or using an alternative vaccine schedule leaves your child vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. Yes, vaccine-preventable diseases are not as common as they once were. But that is because of vaccines. Delaying, refusing, or spacing out vaccines only increases the amount of time your child is susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases. A recent study demonstrated that complete immunization of each U.S. birth cohort with the current childhood immunization schedule prevents approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease. What does that mean in real life? Let’s use my daughter as an example. She was born in 2010. So fully immunizing all of the babies born in 2010 would prevent about 42,000 deaths and 20 million sick kids over the course of their lives. Wow. That’s a lot of lives saved. Thankfully, I know my daughter is one of those protected. I hope your child is one of those protected as well. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Refusing, Delaying, And Alternating The Vaccine Schedule: Helpful Or Harmful? Editor's Note: While readers are welcome to share their opinions, please keep the conversation friendly and polite. Comments are monitored and any inflammatory or inappropriate remarks will be removed.